Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/555

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537
ON THE STUDY OF BIOLOGY.

ers, mean. If he does not do that, he may read till the crack of doom, but he will never know much about chemistry. That is what every chemist will tell you, and the physicist will do the same for his branch of science. The great changes and improvements in physical and chemical scientific education which have taken place of late have all resulted from the combination of practical teaching with the reading of books and with the hearing of lectures. The same thing is true in biology. Nobody will ever know anything about biology, except in a dilettant "paper-philosopher" way, who contents himself with reading books on botany, zoölogy, and the like; and the reason of this is simple and easy to understand. It is, that all language is merely symbolical of the things of which it treats; the more complicated the things, the more bare is the symbol, and the more its verbal definition requires to be supplemented by the information derived directly from the handling, and the seeing, and the touching of the thing symbolized: that is really what is at the bottom of the whole matter. It is plain common-sense, as all truth in the long-run is, only common sense clarified. If you want a man to be a tea-merchant, you don't tell him to read books about China or about tea, but you put him into a tea-merchant's office, where he has the handling, the smelling, and the tasting of tea. Without the sort of knowledge which can he gained only in this practical way, his exploits as a tea-merchant will soon come to a bankrupt termination. The "paper-philosophers" are under the delusion that physical science can be mastered as literary accomplishments are acquired, but unfortunately it is not so. You may read any quantity of books, and you may be almost as ignorant as you were at starting, if you don't have, at the back of your minds, the change for words in definite images which can only he acquired through the operation of your observing faculties on the phenomena of Nature.

It may be said: "That is all very well, but you told us just now that there are probably something like a quarter of a million different kinds of living and extinct animals and plants, and a human life could not suffice for the examination of one-fiftieth part of all this." That is true, but then comes the great convenience of the way things are arranged; which is, that, although there are these immense numbers of different kinds of living things in existence, yet they are built up, after all, upon marvelously few plans.

There are, I suppose, about 100,000 species of insects, if not more, and yet anybody who knows one insect—if a properly-chosen one—will be able to have a very fair conception of the structure of the whole. I do not mean to say he will know that structure thoroughly, or as well as it is desirable he should know it, but he will have enough real knowledge to enable him to understand what he reads, to have genuine images in his mind of those structures which become so variously modified in all the forms of insects he has not seen. In fact,